I caught up with Chris Amos, from London gay sauna Pleasuredrome, to talk about why gay bathhouses still matter.
With the rise of hook-up apps, there was a sense that the days of the gay sauna or bathhouse were finished. Why do you think that saunas like Pleasuredrome continue to have a role to play in the lives of gay men?
The rise of hook-up apps has impacted on the gay social scene - especially bars and clubs. However the sauna scene is still flourishing, perhaps even more so. A lot of people are actually using the apps inside the sauna, or to meet at Pleasuredrome as it’s much safer to meet here than go to someone’s flat. Also, in London, many people share their flats - if you want to hook up privately and can’t take them home, Pleasuredrome offers deluxe pods which provide an alternative to expensive hotel rooms.
Men come to Pleasuredrome for all sorts of reasons. Some come after going out, on their way to or from work, some men prefer to not use apps. Lots of visitors to London come too, some men just come to relax and enjoy the facilities.
Plus, in the sauna you can see other guys in the flesh, and hook-up there and then.
Has the way that gay men use saunas like Pleasuredrome evolved in recent years?
With the rise of apps, and the credit crunch that hit the UK in 2008, there has been an erosion of the gay scene, with less venues to visit. But Pleasuredrome is an institution in the centre of London. We never close - we’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As venues have closed, more and more men have been trying out Pleasuredrome. Plus, we’ve noticed a younger crowd coming in since we’ve offered a discount for under-25s.
We’ll soon be expanding Pleasuredrome to make the spa 50 percent bigger. This will enable us to open an additional 22 deluxe pods - with TV, power points to recharge mobiles, and controllable lighting. We’re also very excited about creating Britain’s first steam maze. A brand new stone spa pool with unique water features will also be added.
What sort of guys go to a sauna like Pleasuredrome?
There’s a lot of diversity in London, and this is reflected in the guests that we have. We get young guys, older guys, bisexual guys, married men, guys wanting to experiment, tourists, all nationalities, jocks, slim guys. We have a very open policy and welcome all guys.
What days of the week and times of day are the busiest at Pleasuredrome?
During the week, we’re busiest between 4 PM and 9 PM. On Fridays, we’re packed from 4 PM to very late, and Saturdays from 4 PM all the way through to Sunday morning and Sunday afternoons. We always have guests.
Is a London sauna, like Pleasuredrome, different in any way to saunas that I might find in other cities around the world?
Pleasuredrome is different to other London saunas, as we focus on offering the best facilities - steam rooms, saunas, spa pool - and keep these clean and well-maintained. With the expansion, we really are aiming to be one of the world’s great saunas. The steam maze will be an experience. The owners have visited saunas across the globe and will incorporate the best of what they’ve seen into the Pleasuredrome expansion.
Do you ever have any shows or performances at Pleasuredrome?
We never do special parties or theme nights - despite many requests from promoters to do so. We’ve found that the few times we did special events, it put off our regular clientele. Our priority is to always offer a clean, safe environment for our guests - an experience that every time that they visit, they know what to expect, no surprises. At Pleasuredrome, you always know it will be busy, you’re welcome, and you know what you’re going to get.
If I’ve never been to a sauna before, but I’m interested in trying it out, what advice or guidance would you give?
Going to a sauna can be daunting experience for first-timers, which is part of the thrill of the experience. There’s a degree of freedom and relaxation that can’t be found elsewhere. So many men to meet and see in the flesh, as opposed to navigating fake profiles and constant messaging on dating apps - here, you can see for yourself. Most guys are surprised how friendly people are. There aren’t too many men who only come once and never come back - that says a lot.
We want to hear your opinion
Welcome to planet Akeron
Sandy Pianim from Recon sits down with body modfication specialists Alex and Yan to talk tattoos and fetish.
Tattoos & Piercings are a fetish interest we rarely get to shine a light on at Recon. So, when we met this French couple during Fetish Week London 2017 we knew that we’d eventually sit down with them to discuss what it is about body modification that makes them tick. Welcome to planet Akeron!
Alex and Yan are so distinctly different from everything around them in Nice – the sunny city on the French Riviera where they are based and run their tattoo and piercing business, Akeron Body Mod – that their impact is all the more powerful. As rare fetish visitors, we’re greeted with warmth and excitement, though this greeting would extend to all. “We wanted to create a safe space for anyone… for fetish people or not. To offer them the opportunity to do body mods, tattoos, [and] piercings in a non-judgemental place – which is very important and to help people with their journey.” Alex tells us.
It’s evident that the pair have been on quite a journey of self-discovery together and regard themselves as aliens, which is fitting given their appearance.
“When I met Yan he only had one tattoo and two piercings” Alex says “So I helped him modify his appearance. I’ve been into body piercing and modification since I was 14 and I got my first heavy body mod when I was 18”
Yan recounts his first piercings “I did my first piercings myself, my labret and naval, I was like 16. [Though] I also had my ears pierced when I was 12.”
We asked them what they like about modifying themselves and Yan explains, “For us it’s not a real fetish, It’s a way of life. We don’t think about it, we live for tattoos and piercings. It’s a passion for us. It’s a way of freedom”
The themes of freedom and self-expression are evident in their desire to have more done. “As you get older you discover yourself and try a lot of things. It wasn’t fashion.” Trying to find the words to describe how they enjoy pushing their limits in English, Yan jokes “We like to stretch holes! Sometimes on Sunday we don’t have anything to do then it’s like ‘Oh why don’t we do some scarification today? OK!’ Or a new piercing or a new tattoo.”
They must have a lot of free Sundays, as they’re covered head to toe with a variety of modifications. This approach also gets us wondering if they had any limits. Alex says, “Everything I said no to when I was younger, I ended up doing anyway, so never say never. We don’t like limits.”
How this lack of limits translates into their sex life seems a salient point, so we ask what their other fetish interests are. Alex discovered his love for rubber and bondage from some guys he met on Recon in Nice about five years ago. He also mentions that he loves deep throating. “I would say it’s my main talent in life!” Yan interjects jokingly, referring to the movie Alien, “And I’m a face hugger!”
If you’re wondering how they manage to have sex with all their piercings, Yan fills us in, “It’s horrible to fuck with all our piercings. You cannot suck. There is always something that goes wrong…” Alex interrupts with his disagreement of this, but Yan continues “He’s lost a lot of piercings. Always losing piercings!” Alex concedes this point. “I used to have some high Monroe piercings with tiny balls when I did them. Maybe one or two days after I got them, Yan was fucking my mouth, the balls came in and it went so bad! He can’t help himself. He likes to make me suffer. He’s a bit of a sadist.”
Not only have they evolved together with regards to their body modification, but Alex continues with telling us how Yan helped him evolve sexually. “When I met Yan, I was mostly top and then he forced me into being a greedy bottom. I discovered anal pleasure with him. I’m very thankful for it because now I enjoy it from both top and bottom. I would never have imagined being here four years ago. It’s constant evolution.”
Alex has a list set out in his mind about what he wants his next evolutions to be. “I want my labret cut again, I would love my conch removed, I would like my eyes touched up, my tongue split a bit more, my nipples removed, my naval removed, and my dick implants with some silicone work. Not silicone injections, silicone implants… bits and ribs. I would like a lot of silicone work on my arms as well and facial scarification, more facial tattoos done… a lot of stuff.”
One might think that even after all they’ve done that the pain associated with these procedures is second nature. They both exclaim, “Of course we feel the pain!” Alex continues, “I don’t enjoy pain at all, I’m just willing to get through it for the results.”
The couple have to deal with people’s perception of them and whilst we hang out we notice people’s reaction to them more and more. Yan reasons, “The fact is that we haven’t invented anything, it’s just modification that has been around for thousands of years.” When they feel like people think they’re odd or scary Alex’s response is, “…I say thank you. It’s definitely not my point to be scary, but if that’s the perception from others then ok, I don’t care.”
One of the most noticeable reasons why people stop and stare could be due to their most dramatic modification: their eyes. “In a lot of sci-fi movies what makes the difference between humans and every animal or extra-terrestrial thing is the eye colour. It definitely changes you. It takes the humanity away, and that’s what I really like about it” says Alex. Yann adds, “The day after, it felt like we were reborn.”
Alex’s shares his view with us. “We don’t live for other people. I can understand their reaction, as they’re not used to seeing people like us, but we’re here to open minds.” Yann adds, “And that we are free, it’s a free country, it’s important for us. Some humans are not free today. People cannot be themselves. We are lucky to be here and to be free, together as gays. We can do what we want so we have to enjoy it.”
We love Akeron’s spirit and energy and encourage people to go to Nice to visit them and their shop or reach out to them on Recon or social media with any tattoo, piercing or body modification questions and queries.
Photos by Joaquin Bielsa for Recon
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